If I had to summarize the past few games of the season the title of said summation would probably read: The Houston Rockets and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad road trip. There have been numerous problems for the Rockets in New Orleans, Boston, and Philadelphia including a plague of turnovers, poor late game execution and an inexplicable scoring drought. On Saturday night in Philadelphia the Rockets repeated themselves by allowing the 76ers to strong-arm Kevin McHale's crew into a bad place by the start of the fourth quarter. Despite the summoning of a late burst of focus, the Rockets were seven points shy of contention when the buzzer wailed at the end of the fourth quarter.
Jrue Holiday, who was not present the last time the Rockets squared off against the 76ers, bested James Harden with 30 points, 9 assists and 4 steals. Thaddeus Young (18 points, 12 boards) and Jason Richardson (16 points) were also key contributors to Philadelphia's re-imagined offense. James Harden (29 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists), Chandler Parsons (23 points, 9 rebounds) and Omer Asik (16 points, 10 rebounds) all played a good offensive game but the rest of the Rockets were nowhere to be found. Jeremy Lin had one of his worst shooting nights of the season (13 shots, 2 makes) but only turned the ball over once.
Evan Turner, who was prematurely labeled a bust, is starting to live up to lofty expectations as an elite playmaking wing. Turner had 12 points and 6 assists for the 76ers. Between Holiday and Turner the 76ers should have a strong core to build around. The Rockets can outrun any team in the league but on nights like Saturday when shots aren't falling down the stretch all that hustle and energy is a lost cause without a little defense.
The Rockets managed to cut the gap to three points by the two minute mark in the third quarter but Jrue Holiday and company pushed Philadelphia's lead to nine points by the time the fourth quarter started. Prior to Saturday, the Sixers had lost five games in a row and if the Rockets had managed to end the third quarter in better shape James Harden's run in the fourth could have been enough to win the game. Harden summarized the core issue facing the Rockets in plain English following the loss: "Teams get out to good leads on us and we try to fight back. We get back to a two or three point game and we run out of energy."
Harden, who leads the league in and-one conversions, showcased his ability to take over during the final stretch of the game. I didn't take Harden's MVP chants very seriously at the start of the season but even Doug Collins thinks that Harden's name belongs in the conversation. Harden's beasting was quickly silenced by the 76ers in transition and during the final few minutes of the game the Rockets settled for perimeter jump shots.
Paging Marcus Morris. Has anyone seen Marcus Morris? The Marcus Morris project is coming to a screeching halt in the month of January. I didn't realize how bad the numbers were until I saw a thread on ClutchFans. During the past seven games Morris is averaging just 5.9 points (at 33% from the field, 25% from behind the arc) as a starter. Having a stretch four who can knock down buckets is absolutely key to Kevin McHale's offense but Morris has failed to produce as of late and it's becoming a problem. Patrick Patterson, who had three points last night and zero rebounds, is not the solution either. Maybe I'm a little trigger happy with Houston's younger guns but if I were Kevin McHale right now I'd be experimenting with Donatas Motiejunas or Terrence Jones at the four during the first half. Morris and Patterson haven't been particularly revolting on the floor but both forwards have developed a tendency to blend in with their surroundings.
What the Rockets need more than anything else right now is rest and practice. On Tuesday the Rockets will take on the Clippers - one of the league's best teams. Hopefully Kevin McHale can get this team firing on all cylinders again by then.
For more coverage, check out Liberty Ballers.